Fraud charges taint travel scheme
Tourism campaign sees discrepancies
The unusual redemption rate for the tourism stimulus campaign has alarmed the government, leading to inspections of ongoing transactions, while another 1 million room nights planned for this scheme has been postponed from Dec 16.
Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the Tourism and Sports Minister, said the ministry received a number of complaints about fraud in the "We Travel Together" scheme that started on July 18 and offered 5 million hotel room nights.
On Dec 9, the real-time tracking system on the website showed 225,922 room nights were left, with 1.68 million air tickets available. On Dec 11, the air tickets remained unchanged, but the available rooms were listed as zero.
Mr Phiphat said the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was assigned to work with the Finance Ministry and Krungthai Bank (KTB) to analyse transactions during recent months and coordinate with the Thai Hotels Association (THA) to prevent such incidents in the future.
"Extraordinarily fast bookings might be driven by high demand in high season, but we have to scrutinise transactions for wrongdoing," he said.
Mr Phiphat said fraudulent schemes were consistently found in many previous tourism stimulus campaigns.
The 22.4-billion-baht stimulus campaign saw a slow response in the first 50 days as only 851,000 registrants booked hotel rooms using privileges, prompting the government to revamp many rules, such as allowing people to choose hotels in their home provinces and increasing the e-voucher value for weekday travel to 900 baht.
The additional 1 million room nights to be added also have a new quota per person of 15 nights, up from 10 nights in the last rejig and five nights in the initial stage.
Krisada Chinavicharana, finance permanent secretary, said the Finance Ministry acts as an operator for this project. If it detects any unusual cases, it passes on the information to TAT.
Financial policy adviser Pornchai Thiraveja said fraudulent activities could be discovered by checking physical facts, such as examining check-in activities and water or electric consumption in suspected hotels and resorts, which should match bookings and hotel sizes.
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said there are at least 500 unusual transactions that TAT received from the operator of this project. He said if any hotels or individual users are found guilty, they have to be punished, such as being blacklisted and forced to compensate all losses.
However, in a meeting with Finance Ministry representatives, KTB, THA and online travel agents on Monday, fraudulent cases were determined to be a minority of total bookings. As long as most hotels can reap benefits from this scheme, the project should carry on as planned, said Mr Yuthasak. He said some operators suggested the discrepancy between hotel rooms and airfare redemption could be attributed to a recent adjustment that allows people to travel within their home provinces, avoiding the need for flights.